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Play freely to avoid paralysis by analysis

Tennis tips

August 18, 2010

In the spirit of don’t drink and drive, don’t think and hit. Reviewing an 8-point check list while simultaneously striking a moving ball is next to impossible.

    But sometimes you do just that to try and play better. Unfortunately, you will play worse.

    Why? Because all that left brain-driven analytical thought will literally glaze your eyes over and result in, at best, only a peripheral sighting of the ball — a disaster in the making.

    “Then how am I supposed to watch the ball, judge spacing, visualize my shot, ready the racket by turning my hips/shoulders, keep my footwork energized, relax my grip, time my hitting step, breathe out at impact, and follow through all at the same time?”

    That’s the million dollar question I’m constantly being asked by challenged multi-taskers.

    Answer: You’ll only be able to manage it from muscle memory, established through the proper repetition of the above noted core fundamentals in a practice environment.

    Unfortunately, just playing matches day in and day out without ever practicing —   hitting with a friend, getting on the ball machine, or just drop-hitting by yourself and/or serving without point pressure — is very limiting. Add the misguided warm-up habits of club players that reinforce so little of what’s needed to play your best and you’ve got a big problem with game stagnation.

    You don’t think about how to swallow or how to walk for example. No need, it’s reliably right there on your hard-drive.

    It’s the same with your game, but only if the  basic Ps and Qs have been dialed-in through even an occasional practice.

    Tennis is an interval sport — intense action followed by brief timeouts prior to the start of the next point — and requires being in the moment, but also allows for being out of the moment. Just do the same during the point (your player persona), followed by, if necessary, figuring out how to do it better (your self-coach persona) during the time in between.

    In the midst of a point there can be only two tasks to focus on: 1) watching the ball, 2) visualizing both your shot’s intended direction and margin to the net.

    That’s it!

    The appropriate mechanical and movement necessities are either going to reflexively happen or not happen. They can only be “monitored” kinesthetically — defined as “a sense that perceives bodily movement, position, and weight.”

    Play freely. Let it happen. Do not make it happen — the square peg into the round hole syndrome.

    So, bottom line, what does it take to stop this undermining in-point paralysis through analysis?

    Short answer: courage, conviction, trust. Easily said.

    Giving your Judgmental Self up to the ball and a shot flight plan is no easy proposition, especially if your game is flawed with technical inefficiencies that you recognize but don’t know how to correct. Self-doubt creeps in, distracts and the dominos regularly fall one by one.

    Managing the required finite/gross motor skills during the action are accomplished through “feel.” Being in touch with your physical being without thinking about it is the considerable trick.

    In earlier times, long before the proliferation of sports psychologists, players who on occasion performed at a level well beyond their norm were often identified as being “unconscious,” or “playing out of their mind.”


Jak Beardsworth (USPTA) is based at the Crowne Plaza-Lake Placid Resort. He can be contacted by e-mail at, by phone at 941-626-0097, or through his website:

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